Interview with Ben Otterbein
Photography by Dan Whipps of Whipps Photo
The American dream came true for the Otterbein family when Adam Otterbein immigrated from Germany to Baltimore in 1881, bringing his family’s old-world sugar and ginger cookie recipes from their village bakery.
His great-great-grandson, Ben Otterbein, shares a look at his family’s sweet success.
What is your role in Otterbein’s Cookies?
My official title is vice president. I oversee the business’s operations, including sales, purchasing, payroll, and company growth. My dad, Mark, is a fourth-generation owner and the company president, although his role now is more of a silent partner.
Did you help when you were a kid?
It was always assumed that my siblings and I would go to work with Dad every day during summer vacation—and I do have early memories of that. Once I was deemed old enough, I was tasked with putting stickers on the bags.
When did you decide to join the business?
After graduating high school, I worked for two years at Otterbein’s. But being twenty years old and wanting to have a little fun, I decided to attend college. After graduating, I worked for a small company doing project management for small business owners and soon realized how much I loved helping them. In 2015, my dad was contemplating retirement, so I decided to return home with my fiancée to begin working in our family business. The timing and synergy were in line, and I knew we were coming back for all the right reasons. I was excited to have the opportunity to breathe life back into the business. My attitude was “Let’s light some fire and grow this thing.”
Why do you think the business has survived for more than 140 years?
My grandfather Joe took over the company from his father and ultimately had three retail locations. My dad then joined in 1979 and began discovering ways to take it to the next level. However, in the early 1990s, food stores started putting in their own in-house bakeries. My dad knew the only way for our business to survive was to sell our cookies to regional grocery store chains. Our first big breakthrough was securing shelf space in Giant Food Stores, and other large chains followed suit.
What makes your cookies stand out, and which are your best sellers?
We keep it simple—every cookie is thin and crispy. Our recipe for success is twofold: all our ingredients can be easily found in your kitchen and we use a premium line of French chocolate crafted for top professional pastry chefs. By far, our best seller is our chocolate chip cookie, followed by our sugar cookie.
What is the secret to your success?
We know how important it is to produce a superior product every day. We don’t cut corners on flavor; each batch must taste amazing. Our mission remains the same as when we started in 1881: Simple ingredients. Simple baking. Simple pleasures.
For more info, visit otterbeinscookies.com